Top Ten Folk Artists to Watch in 2016

Dawn and Hawkes prepare to make a splash in 2016.EXPAND
Dawn and Hawkes prepare to make a splash in 2016.
Photo courtesy of Dawn and Hawkes

While the perpetual cynics hem and haw that great Americana music is in scarce quantity these days, 2015 proved such assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth. Several new artists emerged from a variety of stylistic realms, proving emphatically that there remains a wellspring of excellent contemporary folk, country, soul, and Americana performers just waiting in the wings. Here then, are our picks for those who warrant be watched in the year ahead.

10. Dawn and Hawkes
After a pleasing but largely overlooked debut, 2012's Golden Heart EP, Dawn and Hawkes returned in 2015 with the heart-melting Yours and Mine. Partners both in music and love, Miranda Dawn and Chris Hawkes purvey a soft strum and gilded sentiments, layering their acoustic guitars beneath burnished harmonies. Dawn, a finalist for the New Folk Songwriting Competition at the 2012 Kerrville Folk Festival, made her national bow with Hawkes on NBC's The Voice in 2014, leading judge Adam Levine to trumpet their take on the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face” as his “favorite performance on the show... ever.” From there, things quickly escalated. They achieved a high ranking on the folk music charts, a string of prestigious support gigs, and regular appearances on the national festival circuit.

9. David Myles
David Myles has built a sizable following north of our borders, but he's yet to share his talents with a wider Stateside audience. The songwriter has already penned several albums and received practically every award there is to win (including a Juno and various accolades accumulated in his native Nova Scotia) and sounds like a cross between James Taylor and Michael Buble, thanks to a low-key, unassuming style that ingratiates him from the first notes forward. While much has been made of the fact that Myles easily leaps from rock to jazz, Latin music and hip-hop to purely country croons, his recent album, So Far — his first to be released in the United States — parlays a pure Americana/folk feel. With tastes running from Don Gibson and Roger Miller to Frank Ocean, Aretha Franklin, and Smokey Robinson, Myles' So Far was an apt title considering the fact that it not only sums up his strengths but also bodes the promise of what’s to come.

8. Nigel Hall
There aren’t too many artists genuinely committed to old-school soul these days, what with the proliferation of rap, hip-hop, and various mutations that deviate from the form. That made Hall’s initial bow, Ladies & Gentlemen... Nigel Hall, an auspicious debut for any number of reasons, not the least of which is found in the fact that Hall himself emerges fully formed, a talented singer with the skills and chops that attest to his clear commitment to form. It’s not enough that he possess the vocal chops and keyboard skills needed to meet the standard, but the fact that he’s so adept at a vintage sound makes one wonder if he‘s perhaps been hibernating for 40 years, waiting to take up Otis Redding’s mantle when called upon. Hall brings an obvious vitality and fresh enthusiasm to his genuinely soulful sound.

7. Sam Morrow
It isn’t surprising that Sam Morrow’s rugged, often ragged approach to contemporary country readily conjures up comparisons to Steve Earle, Jason Isbell, and Merle Haggard. He fancies himself the same sort of grizzled, no-nonsense troubadour whose insurgent sound puts him well outside the mainstream. On his striking sophomore set, There Is No Map, Morrow shows he's unafraid to pursue his own muse, even if it means stating exactly what's on his mind. “We’re all just fucking liars,” he defiantly declares on “Wasted Time.” Indeed, Morrow’s gruff vocals and steadfast delivery show obvious intent. “The same old bullshit don’t make your grass green,” he chides, and given his irascible perspective, it’s clear he isn’t interested in hearing any argument to the contrary.

6. Guy Marshall
Led by the husband-wife duo of Adam McNulty and Sarenna McNulty, Guy Marshall was named for McNulty’s uncle and inspired by the tales of Appalachia, classic country music, and family stories he heard while growing up. Guy Marshall first took form in August 2011, when the McNultys decided to join their voices in harmony and recruit a band — currently consisting of Eric Griffin (guitar), Zach Gilleran (drums), and Travis Bigwood (bass). Yet, while each of the members is a veteran of earlier ensembles, their combined efforts yield a sound that’s as vintage and archival as the classic sounds they so readily embrace.Their debut album, The Depression Blues, affirms that notion in its mournful combination of tattered Americana and down-home designs. It’s a remarkable first effort, one that recalls classic bands of a homespun variety, specifically those artists and outfits they cite as prime influences: Dylan, the Band, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Dwight Yoakam, George Jones, and Neil Young among them.


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